Monday, November 26, 2012

Entry #12 - Student Learning Outcomes

This blog served as a direct learning opportunity for me over the past few months. Looking back at the Student Learning Outcomes given to us on the first day of class, many jumped out at me…

Students will gain knowledge and competency with regards to:

1. the variety of genres that readers and writers use to communicate

2. the role of purpose and audience in writing and reading and the rhetorical voices used to address the desired purpose(s) and audience(s).

3. the historical and contemporary theoretical models of reading and writing, including new literacy theories of reading and writing.

4. the relationship between the writing and reading process.

5. the role of metacognition in writing proficiency and reading comprehension

This blog served as a learning experience with a very specific audience and purpose. Most writing tasks I have participated in are formal, with only my professor as my audience. This writing task allowed me to take on my own role as a learner and speak informally while reflecting within that role. My audience was also my peers, which was directed by the bless, address, and press posts we did as well as commenting on others’ blogs. This is my most natural voice and purpose, and although at the surface level these posts seemed like easy tasks, I put more thoughts, effort, and reflection into them than I have most essays, reflections, papers, etc. it was a way for me to take surface level responses and reflect on many modes of reading and writing as well as make connections between others, my classroom, texts we were reading, presentations we were part of, etc. this blog served as a well rounded approach for me to make connections beyond this course itself as well as my current teaching position. The metacognition I used while creating this blog was not necessarily a new task, but connecting those thoughts to produce writing was. I often spend time reflecting on what I have learned and how I can relate it to other aspects of my life, however, this if the first time I was forced to make those connections and then go the extra step and publish them with a personal, natural voice.

I was also able to meet the student learning outcomes by experimenting with my knowledge of genres that are used to communicate through writing. Almost every week, I engaged in the reading process to keep up on reading assignments, and then used the writing process to make connections between concepts understood while reading. If I was not writing to make those connections and form new relationships between genres the information would not be as concrete and relatable as it is right now. I honestly feel I am able to take every piece of information we have engaged in during this course and relate it to my 5 and 6 year old students! Never before have I been able to use everything, or tailor everything, to meet the needs of myself, my classroom, and my students.

Although when I first started writing this post (as noted above) I felt that the first 5 objectives really stood out to me and I have made gains in my understanding of them. However, rereading the last 2, I realize that this blog has also helped me to better understand how to assess reading and writing assignments that are ‘less traditional’ or that incorporate more technology than I am used to. I learned that assessment can be student or peer driven, such as the post I am completing right now. I am assessing my own understandings by rereading posts, going back to student outcomes, and reading and reflecting on student comments. This post probably serves Dr. Jones as STRONG indicator in determining student writing proficiency. I have been able to assess my own reflection, as well as peers have been able to read and press my writing, all with a natural, personable voice. This blog has opened my eyes to a whole new world of writing, and has allowed me to make connections and reflect on things I would have never even noticed otherwise.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Entry #11 - Genre Reflection

I have learned more about genres in the past 5 weeks in this course than I have my lifetime. During this course specifically, I was able to take the new knowledge I was learning and directly relate it to previous notions and many times misconceptions I had to develop a clearer, deeper understanding of each.

During presentations and through reading Tompkins, I have learned about many text structures that were never explicitly discussed elsewhere in my education career. For example, although I had previous notions regarding the text structure of a letter (whether personal or business), and I understood text structures we find in most narrative writing such as plot, setting, etc, I had no idea that biographical writing included specific text structures as well. I learned that biographical writing contains different structures that each have very specific characteristics. For example, personal narratives, memoirs, and autobiographies all have different characteristics however they are all considered biographical writing. 

Most of the genre’s discussed I had a surface level understanding of, but gained a deeper understanding as I read and participated in presentations. My own presentation, for example, was on persuasive writing. Before research, I knew the basics about persuasive writing, such as persuasive writing has a beginning (stating belief), middle (reasons why you believe it), and end (repeat what you believe). However, I learned that the above example of the structure of a persuasive writing piece can be easily manipulated. For example, a more complex student may choose to include the other side of the argument and why that side is not reasonable. Although I had the baseline understanding of what persuasive writing is, what I failed to realize, is that persuasion is a part of my everyday life. Not a day goes by that I do not try to persuade someone in my life (including myself!) one thing or another. That is the umbrella idea that really hit home while learning about each genre:  We were not just learning about reading and writing genres, we were learning about how they are a part of our everyday lives. 

Letter writing is another genre I assumed I knew what I needed to know about it to teach it, however I was drastically wrong. I knew the basic text structures of a letter, and how they may change slightly to become tailored to the specific audience they are meant. I learned that not a day goes by that I do not write a letter, whether it is a text message, email, etc. I learned that each text structure needs to be explicitly taught and modeled, and no two types of letters should be taught on the very same day. In fact, I think many of my misconceptions came from the fact that when I was introduced to this genre as a child, it was all introduced at once. I learned about personal letters, business letters, post cards, etc in one lesson, which lent me to believe the different types of letters are more similar than they truly are. These presentations not only helped clear up any misconceptions I had to begin with, but they also gave me hands on methods I can use when educating my own children on each specific genre. 

Although I feel much better about each genre specifically, I worry I may be using the wrong educational techniques to teach the genre’s in my own classroom. For example, just this week in clinic I was told that compare and contrast graphic organizers, as well as specific concept maps and KWL charts, should not be used with narrative text. It makes sense now that these organizers require specific information that a student cannot correctly obtain from a narrative writing piece simply because they need concrete details. I student taught, taught my own classroom, and worked with students in clinic over the past years with that misconception that plays a large role in student understanding. My biggest fear is that I am going to teach ‘wrong’, without having the correct knowledge on a specific topic. Therefore, these genre presentations aided in my understanding of writing drastically. I now feel confident I can make decisions in my own classroom regarding teaching these genres accurately and appropriately, and aid in students understandings of each.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Entry #10 - Bless, Address of Press

When reviewing the blogs of peers, I found a sentence in Post #9 by J.Kerouac that stopped me in my tracks. The quote read...

"The use of this expository reading and writing provides limitless possibilities for the ways students can access new information and learn content. In my current classroom, we’ve combined our science and writing unit"

The first sentence in the above quote is something I am recently becoming familiar with. During my undergrad and graduate work I have learned the benefits of expository text and how to use it appropriately, but I have never been given specific examples of how to provide opportunities for student growth through expository text. It is limiting to think that I have settled in my own room using mainly fictional text simply because it is what I am most comfortable with AS WELL AS what my students are most comfortable with. But isn't my job to balance those students on the edge of their very own comfort zone?

Kerouac proved she is doing just that by going on to state that she has combined science and writing units in her own classroom. Five years ago I would've looked at her like she had 3 heads. Although my eyes widened initially, after thinking about this concept, I realized all of the benefits that come from it.

Right now I am struggling with science in general, specifically, with how to add it into my classroom across other subject matter rather than in isolation. Pairing it with writing, or making writing a large part of science, would cause for a smoother transition as well as help to make connections across the curriculum. I also love the idea that using expository text to introduce topics in science give students specific, concrete examples of what certain types of expository text look like.  “Through instruction and reading and writing experiences, children grow in their ability to differentiate among genres” (Tompkins, 2012, p. 202). Using writing in science curriculum is the perfect opportunity to help students grow in their ability to identify specific genres.

Teaching across the curriculum is a concept I learned early on in my education at Nazareth, however it is one that really causes the teacher to stop and think. In order to appropriately teach like this, I must first understand how topics relate, compare, overlap, and how I can think about them in a variety of ways. I must understand this before I ask any child to understand and make those connections as well. Kerouac's post was a great example of how as educators, we can take concepts that to most do not seem to relate on the outside, and make connections between them to deepen our understandings of them both!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Entry #9 - Open Entry

While preparing my genre pieces project, I have been working diligently on my poetic piece which is an acrostic poem. Since my topic is my wedding, it evokes an emotional response when I think and/or write about it. I decided that one of my individual pieces was going to be written in my own personal voice, and I wanted it to be emotional yet light and funny as well. For that reason, I decided to use the poetry genre to voice to my audience my emotions on the topic.

When I began thinking about this piece, I realized quickly that there were many forms poetry can take. I started researching acrostic poems, simply because I was most familiar with them. When I was in elementary school I remember learning about poetry, but for some reason none of the other poetic forms really stuck with me. Because of this, I knew I wanted to research acrostic poetry by reading mentor texts but search for complex, emotional driven acrostics. Once this was established, I found myself turning to the writing process that Tompkin's (2012) described in chapter one.

After researching I used a variety of different methods to prewrite. On 4 different occasions, I opened a microsoft word page and just wrote. I wrote words, sentences, and phrases, some that made sense and some that absolutely did not. I used different colored fonts to differentiate between events and/or time periods, and I used bold font to distinguish between the ideas I wanted to use in my actual piece and those I did not. This process was extremely time consuming, but during it, I changed my writing piece drastically for the better.

Once I had ideas written down, I was able to better organize them. I drafted 3 different acrostic poems, each varying slightly structurally and emotionally. These drafts did not use standard conventions, rather they took my previous prewriting ideas and organized them into the form I wanted for my final piece. This was the easiest part of the process for me, since the original thoughts were already written down elsewhere. During the time spent on this task, I realized the importance of prewriting and how informal it can be. My organized chaos helped me to create first drafts that were the beginning of the individual piece.

Back before we were asked the read the very first chapter of Tompkins (2012), I never distinguished the difference between revising and editing. I grouped the editing into the revising stage, and used revision time to look at grammar, mechanics, and spelling as well. Because of this, I often did not have a specific purpose for editing my own text. It was unclear as to what exactly I was looking for, since I was attempting to accomplish so much at once. While working in this course with my poem, for the first time I was very conscious of what I was looking for each time I reread my piece. I was able to revise with my writing group, as well as with friends and family at home. My fiance's input was extremely helpful to aide in my own reflection and discussions. Before I began the editing process, I realized that the people I revise with and the people I edit my writing piece with may be very different. For example, my fiance was perfect to aide in revisions for my project where as he would make an awful editor! I honestly cannot believe I thought of these two processes as one.

During the publishing stage, I contemplated form many times. Dr. Jones' voice came into my head often, since form and format were the very first things I wanted to think about before this project was even fully developed. I was told specifically to save form until the very end, and I learned why... the hard way. I pictured this piece being published electronically, or at the very least typed and printed, however once I wrote it I got a very different feeling. With a trip to JoAnn Fabrics I was able to publish a piece that was completely unique, and VERY different than what I had originally anticipated. The learning I have gained in this project alone are indescribable. Thinking back now I cannot believe I had so many misconceptions on what I thought was a seemingly simple task!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Entry #8 - Bless, Address, or Press

Katie Mason, in Entry Six of her blog Katie's Blog, discusses teacher driven assessment. She stated "In my opinion, I think that we would wear ourselves out if we graded every piece of writing and offered consistent and meaningful feedback". She went on to say "Most students, who are apathetic to writing, will not take the time to read all of the comments and critiques written on their writing". I think both of the above statements hold truth in many classrooms, but I also think that teachers grading every piece of student work is not beneficial for many other reasons.

When reflecting on assessment practices and what I have learned throughout this course, I have come to believe that assessment must be strategic, purposeful, and very clear. When we do assess students of any age they must understand completely what and how they are being assessed. As educators, formal assessment can provide us with specific feedback as to where our students stand and more importantly, where they need to go. I think it very important to take that information and instead of having the mindset "this student must be able to... by ..." we must turn that around and think "what can I do to be able to help this student...". When assessment is used in that way, it is much more reflective and purposeful.

I also think it is important for teachers to use informal modes of assessment in their classroom. Tompkins (2012) wrote that “teachers need to ask themselves whether assessing each piece of writing will make their students better writers, and most teachers will admit that such arduous critiques won’t” (p.104). If this is the case, we as teachers can be observing, taking notes, or simply conferencing with student to gain a better understanding of what they need and what we can do to help. Using these methods of assessment are much less intimidating and will make our students better writers, rather than assessing them for a finalized grade only.

Mason also discussed in her blog the importance of communicating with students versus giving work a final grade and stopping there.

"In my other classes, I assign much of the writing as a grade. I do not critique their actual writing though. Instead I skim through the writing to get the gist and grade them based on the relevance to the assignment. If the student is writing and is missing the main point, I will occasionally write questions back to them, in an attempt to get them to be more thoughtful"

Tompkins (2012) would agree with Mason in that assessment should be clear and communicative, and not only based on grammar, mechanics, etc. Students need feedback that lends them to ponder, using higher level thinking skills to debrief on how they can make their writing piece stronger. It seems like that is what Mason is using in her own classroom. Instead of only assessing writing mechanics, she is trying to get students to make connections and elaborate on what they have already written. I think this is a pertinent part of assessment.

Just last week I was working with my writing group to discuss ideas we had and the starts of our Genre Pieces Projects. I was lucky enough to have a group that essentially broke down every single idea I had, giving me other viewpoints, only to build back up each part of my project much stronger than it was initially. They cause multiple moments when "uhhhh..." was the only thing out of my mouth, and many moments when I felt like I was completely starting from scratch! In the end, that informal peer assessment helped me to create ideas that I am proud of and genuinely look forward to expanding upon!

My hope as an educator is that I will someday have the ability to take a student who is anxious about an assignment, struggling with it, or giving up all together, and give them the motivation, confidence, and ability to think through their anxieties to build amazing pieces of writing!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Entry #7 - Open Entry

While working with my group on the "Teaching the Genre" project, I have been reflecting about my use of persuasive text in my own classroom. Prior to this project, persuasive writing and persuasive text was the genre I knew the least about, and in turn made me the most intimidated. Prior to research, I felt that persuasive text should be used with older children, and was primarily only a part of middle and high school curriculum. Without the research findings, I felt that the art of persuasion was too advanced of a task for younger students, without realizing that persuasive writing is all around me.

The article I read for our presentation discussed persuasive writing in children, adolescents, and adults, and the changes in writing as students aged. I learned that I was correct when thinking that persuasive writing is a challenging form of communication, and not a natural form of writing or speaking. Students and adults alike must understand the problem, form an opinion based on that understanding, and most importantly understand the opposing argument. Looking back, I think that is why I felt persuasion was used for older students. With maturity comes less egocentrism which helps students understand others' views. However, I learned that there are many ways to incorporate

Nippold, Ward-Lonergan, and Fanning would agree with Tompkins about many things. They agree that persuasion is used everyday regardless of age or where one lives. Even young children use verbal persuasion to prove to their parents they should be able to stay up later. In fact, when asked to generate an example of persuasion for our presentation I was thinking to myself "How in the world am I going to find an example!". I learned quickly that I have a ton! Even last month I created a persuasive PowerPoint presentation to persuade my fiance to wear grey tuxes at our wedding :) Nippold, Ward-Lonergan, and Fanning would also agree with Tompkins that students abilities to use persuasive text develop slower than any other genre. Because young children are egocentric, and have a hard time understanding other points of view, it is hard for them to understand  topic, choose a side, prove the argument, and understand the counter argument. Another agreement would be that a teacher must scaffold the use of persuasive writing in their classrooms. Prior to researching for this project, I had NO idea how I could even attempt to use persuasive writing in my own Kindergarten classroom. I knew my students could not grasp arguments and counter arguments, and understand we need examples to prove what we believe. I was anxious to even introduce it in my room because of this, and I did not want to set my students up for failure. I now understand how naive I was as an educator. My 5 year old students persuade on a daily basis. They persuade me to have more play time, to go outside for 5 more minutes, to be able to play a game with friends, to skip math all together, and many more. This is natural to them. I've learned in the past few weeks that I can use this background knowledge of natural persuasion to introduce the genre in my room.

Persuasive writing is an important skill to master since it is used in everyday text. It helps to empower individuals to make decisions at work and in society on a daily basis.Whether you are writing a cover letter for a resume, talking to a friend or family member, selling a product, or discussing which cake tastes better, persuasion is all around us!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Entry #6 - Open Entry

The way in which a teacher assesses student writing can either aid in the development of writing confidence or hinder that confidence development in students. As a college student, it has been difficult for me to get papers and projects back, with red ink on every page. I know over the past 4 years I have become a stronger writer, however I have lost much confidence in the task. Tompkins (2012) helped me to realize that there are many modes of assessing writing, and formal assessment of the final product is only one of them. 

Since my students are so young, and since I am teaching in a Day Care facility, I find ‘formal grading’ to be intimidating for me. I worry that since students are with me half day and with their school district kindergarten teacher the other half of the day, that parents expect our half day to be relaxing, unstructured, playtime. Since it does not meet those expectations, I worry about grading my students as a teacher would typically. Although I have these anticipations, I also know I need some sort of assessment for myself as an educator to know where my students started, what they have learned, and where we need to go next. Therefore, I have been using many informal modes of assessment to help me gain the information I need, without the ‘typical’ report card number grades.

Informal monitoring of writing can play a large role in younger students writing tasks. Through observing alone, I gain a better sense of what my students are learning and how exactly they are growing. Although this assessment may be subjective, as long as the teacher creates careful, thoughtful, detailed notes of observations it is extremely meaningful. Along with observing, I often find myself informally conferencing with my students. Oftentimes, this is an on-the-spot conference, that was not planned and students did not prepare for. Through these conferences I am able to informally visit each student at their own desk and see how their writing is progressing. There is no intimidation factor with this mode of conferencing since I spend a short time with each student, yet I still gain a better understanding of what that child is working on and what they may need facilitated.  

I also find myself gathering and reviewing writing samples. Even though we have not begun writing stories, over the past 5 weeks of school I have been able to gather written sentences, pictures with descriptions, and handwriting my students have been working on. Gathering all of these works in progress is a way for me to informally monitor student work, as well as for students to monitor their own work and successes!

When reading Tompkin’s (2012) work this week, I was trying to gather modes of assessment that would work for me in my classroom. The use of checklists stood out to me. I am currently not using them in my room, yet I think they would benefit both my students as well as me. The use of a checklist could help students understand exactly what I am looking for in their writing task, focus both student and teacher attention during the writing and assessing processes, and help students gain a better understanding of a certain piece of writing. For example, this past week my students were studying days of the week, and completed a writing task for me. The task included writing a sentence such as “On Wednesdays, I go to swimming practice”. Students were asked to think of a day of the week they have something important to them, and write a sentence and illustrate their sentence. Instead of me assessing these tasks, I could have easily used as checklist to have students assess their own work. The checklist would include pictures versus phrases to be checked off. Later in the year, or even within the next few months, I may even be able to use short words to describe the task to be checked off like the following:

O   Name
O   Capitol letter starting sentence
O   Punctuation
O   Best writing
O   Colored picture

Using this mode of assessment, students can learn to hold themselves accountable for their own work, and parents can see exactly what was expected and whether or not their child met those expectations.

There are many modes of assessment to be used in the classroom. The assessment used is strictly dependent on the task the students have been given. This week I have thought a ton about assessment I have been using, continue to use, and how I can change it to meet the needs of my students and be more purposeful.